Do you miss Japan but can’t get back? Do you wish you could visit or even move there but it seems impossible? Fret no more! Three ways to experience Japanese culture without leaving your home city or town are here. Let’s keep the dream of going to Japan alive or feel closer to what you miss!
Movies from or about Japan
Watching movies from or about Japan is a compelling way to see Japan and Japanese culture. Here are five of my favorites spanning animations, high school flicks and one real-life exploration.
Ghibli is the iconic studio renowned for its animated films. Some Ghibli films do an exceptional job of portraying daily life in Japan. The clang-clang of railway crossings, views over Tokyo, convenience store jingles, planting rice and exploring forests evoke tremendous longing for Japan. Watching films with an eye for daily life helps me relive my memories.
Watching movies in Japanese with subtitles is best. Hearing movies in the original language is more immersive.
Try public libraries and those at educational institutions or Japanese associations, Japanese or Asian museums or centres, tourism boards, and the local Japanese consulate or embassy to find copies.
My favorite Ghibli movies for making me cry and miss Japan the most are:
- My Neighbor Totoro. This film shows a rural and historical view of Japan. I love the expansive countryside views, soaking freshly picked vegetables in a stream, features of homes including offerings to attic gods, and sleeping on tatami under a mosquito net.
- Whisper of the Heart. This movie takes place in contemporary Tokyo. The neighborhood streets and back alleys, mailboxes, interiors of apartments, scenes at school, crossing train tracks, and riding bicycles leave me feeling nostalgic.
Two funny films that show the inner workings of high schools in Japan are Linda! Linda! Linda! and Swing Girls. Besides the laugh-out-loud lines and stories, Hitoshi thought that the representations of high school life were the same as what he experienced. Swing Girls is likely easier to find than Linda! Linda! Linda! We saw the latter at a film festival in Canada put on by the Japanese Consulate. Hitoshi surprised me with a copy for my birthday with help from his family in Japan as we had no luck finding it in Canada.
Karin Muller’s film Japanland is a partner to her 2005 book of the same name. The film takes a different approach from the book that tells of her experiences living, travelling and practicing judo in Japan for a year. I enjoyed seeing footage that was not part of the book, visual coverage of what I had read, and another woman’s perspective of Japan.
There are hundreds of movies about Japan in Japanese, English and other languages. Share some of your favorites in the comments! While a film can be enjoyable for the story, the supporting elements highlighting Japan and Japanese culture can help connect you to what you may be missing.
After seeing food highlighted on every genre of TV show, outside restaurants in vivid plastic models and giant replicas, and brightly slathered over packaging in the grocery store, I began to think that food was no ordinary sustenance in Japan. Learning to cook from my mother-in-law and eating my husband’s replicas of our favorite Japanese dishes in Canada has helped me appreciate the importance food plays in Japanese culture.
Preparing Japanese food is a fun way to pretend you’re in Japan! Try the public library for cookbooks or online, of course. Finding a local cookbook might make your life easier, especially if there are ingredients that are hard to find outside Japan. That said, one cookbook I got in Japan that I’ve found useful is 100 Recipes from Japanese Cooking. It’s bilingual and filled with delicious photos and helpful illustrations. My edition is 2006 by Kodansha International Ltd. For recipes tried and tested in Canada, see my posts on miso soup, making rice and lazy sushi!
Seek out Asian or Japanese/Korean grocery stores and wander the aisles. Packaging usually has an English sticker or is in English so it’s not difficult to get an idea of what is inside. Try researching Japanese food before you go and then look for those items in the grocery store. We have noticed that local chain grocery stores are stocking more fresh vegetables and packaged products that can be used in Japanese cooking. Experience Japan without hopping on a plane!
Surfing online can become an adventure by focusing on Japanese website in Japanese. Imagine you are in Japan and trying to navigate your day without reading the language. Turn off translators and ignore the English pages. Often the Japanese sites are quite different, reflecting perceived taste, focus and views of the intended audience. Here are a few to get you started.
Toei Bus in Tokyo – The bus is fantastic in Tokyo and the Japanese website looks far more interesting than the English one!
Muji – This is one of my favorite stores in Japan. Housewares, stationery supplies, food, clothing and even appliances are all under the Muji banner.
Namahage Museum – This fun spot is in the middle of almost nowhere in Akita Prefecture. I was lucky to visit the festival where scary namahage monsters scream down the mountain to terrify children and leave parents giggling.
What do you do to connect with Japan?
Come back later this week for six more ideas!